Pelagic red crabs, also known as tuna crabs, were spotted off our coast last summer, but are now making mainstream news as they’re washing up on local beaches by the thousands. The free-floating crustaceans are following the abnormally warm water currents northward from their “residence” in Baja.
For local saltwater anglers, their invasion is both welcomed and met with disdain. On one hand, they are a tell-tale sign of a tremendous sportfishing season on tap. Last year when we ran our “top 10 fishy signs of El Niño” story, some salty anglers commented that the mass invasion of red crabs had not occurred, and that until they do, we shouldn’t get our hopes up. So if piles of red tuna crabs washed up on Ocean Beach was the evidence you needed to get excited about this summer…there you have it!
On the other side of the coin, hoards of red crabs are now so readily available to local sportfish that it can almost shut down the fishing bite. Compounding the issue is that because these red crabs are not typical in US waters, there are few lures on the market built to resemble them. Anglers for months have witnessed their target fish (calico bass, bluefin tuna, yellowtail, and pretty much everything else) gorging themselves on red crabs in feverish frenzies, leaving them desperate for a way to match the hatch.
Bait Wraps, a company which specializes in digitally printed graphic vinyl wraps for lures, capitalized with a pelagic red crab design. One SDFish angler, who found these baits sold out at a local tackle store, raided his wife’s nail polish stash to modify a Tady 7c iron to mimic the tuna crabs. Both are pictured in the gallery below, I bet you can tell the difference between the two.
West Coast based tackle manufacturer Shimano has a Lucanus Jig which is particularly well dressed for the task, check those out here. Jig manufacturers with saltwater roots, and west coast swimbait pourers have pretty much all released a pattern to imitate the red crabs, so options are out there now for targeting all saltwater species.
Other anglers are taking advantage of the situation presented on the local beaches in last couple days, and are filling their buckets with red crabs for use as bait — and they’re working, I’ve already seen photos of bass and halibut caught on the red crabs collected at the beach. Most anglers are reporting quick success, “I tossed 2 at Mission Beach and got his really quick on both casts. Wished I had more,” said one sdfish.com forum member.
Another question that keeps popping up; “are they edible?” Despite nothing concrete either way, I’ve heard scientists caution against eating them, as their food source consists of phytoplankton that can contain high levels of toxins. But no question, fish sure enjoy the new food source.
The San Diego Union Tribune published a story this morning on the tuna crab invasion on local beaches, and why they’re here. You can read that with the link at the bottom of this article.